D&D 5e: College of Eloquence Bard Guide
D&D 5e: College of Eloquence Bard Guide
Role in the Party
The traditional role of a Bard is traveling troubadour. A singer and storyteller who moves from place to place, entertaining crowds in taverns and creating epic poems and stories to tell in courts, in the hope of finding rich patronage.
But in D&D, words have power, and the right word in the wrong place can harm, or even kill. The College of Eloquence is a specialist in words, good and bad. Allies will feel extra inspiration with every phrase that pours from the Bard’s mouth, while their enemies stumble and fall, failing key saves and watching all the things they attempt go wrong.
Powerful support characters, this guide breaks down the College of Eloquence, the abilities of the subclass, its (myriad) skill uses, feat choices, and other options.
College of Eloquence Features
Silver Tongue: Consistency! From level 3, the training of the College of Eloquence shines true whenever the Bard opens their mouth. Any rolls of less than 9 for Persuasion and Deception checks count as a minimum of 9.
This is fantastic for ensuring that the primary out-of-combat role of the Bard, acting as the social face, never fails. At level 3, when the character gains this ability, if they have Expertise in one of these skills, the minimum roll they can make on a social check is 16 (9 + 3 from CHA, 2 from Proficiency, and 2 from Expertise.)
This only scales up as the character levels and their stats and proficiency increase. By level 10, the minimum Expertise Persuasion roll an Eloquence Bard can make is an absurd 23.
Being perfectly in character, and removing the thing that kills parties – an unlucky critical failure out of nowhere, is an incredibly handy ability to have, and one the character will use again and again.
Unsettling Words: The College of Eloquence’s big combat ability. From level 3, the Bard can spend a bonus action and choose a creature within 60ft, which takes away the result of an Inspiration Dice from its next saving throw.
This ability is simply hilariously strong, especially if the party has some debuff focused characters in its makeup, like a Wizard, spellcasting Druid, or even the Bard themselves.
Even better, the ability doesn’t require any sort of roll or saving throw. It just works. Point and click.
Failing a save against a major single target debuff will often just remove a creature from an encounter for 1-2 turns. Reducing that saving throw roll by an average of 3.5 points can eliminate the bonus many monsters get from their best save, and also pretty much guarantees that targeting a weak save will always go through.
This is very strong and only gets stronger as the Bard levels up. The dice used gets bigger so the maximum save reduction goes down, and Inspiration starts to come back every short rest, so it can be used more often.
Unfailing Inspiration: From level 6, the Bard’s Inspiration is extra inspiring. If a creature uses an Inspiration dice on a check, and still somehow fails, they don’t lose the dice.
It’s an easy way to guarantee some extra value from one of the Bard’s most used resource pools.
The problem, though, is that Inspiring your allies directly competes with using Unsettling Words, which is often a much stronger ability. Inspiration is a very reliable effect, though, so if you feel like you have some spare dice to throw around, or the party absolutely needs to pass a particular skill challenge or a save, this is great insurance that your Inspiration won’t ever be wasted, which is a total feels bad moment.
Universal Speech: Also at level 6, the Bard can use a limited version of the Tongues spell once per day (with repeated uses available by spending spell slots.)
This ability lets the Bard pick creatures up to their CHA modifier, and lets those creatures understand the Bard’s speech for an hour.
This is okay. Combined with the College of Eloquence’s bonuses to Persuasion, there’s no social encounter that the Bard can’t be confident walking into and talking at. The problem is what’s been left out.
Tongues let the creatures you cast it on speak back to you. This ability doesn’t. So the Bard’s probably going to want to take Comprehend Languages to work alongside this anyway. While that’s better than having to burn a level 3 spell slot casting Tongues, it does make me question why the ability doesn’t just give the Bard a once-per-day spell cast of that spell instead, and avoid all the jumping through hoops.
Infectious Inspiration: From 14, the Eloquence Bard is extra-inspiring. When a creature passes a check while using an Inspiration Dice, the Bard can use their reaction and pass that Inspiration Dice onto another creature within 60ft.
This is incredible and gives the class a real reason to Inspire their allies instead of using Unsettling Words. At this level, Inspiration is a d10, which jumps to a d12 one level later at 15.
That means two allies are getting that bonus to a check, attack roll, or saving throw, which is very powerful, and all it’s costing the Bard is a reaction. Combined with Unfailing Inspiration, which we got at level 6 and makes it impossible for allies to lose an Inspiration Dice once it’s been given to them, this ability doubles the amount of Inspiration the character can hand out.
The College of Eloquence shares the same design space as the College of Lore. A support character that’s main role is as a powerful debuffer, with some serious out of combat utility built into the subclass as well.
The College of Eloquence focuses on big, save-or-suck disables. The core ability of the class reduces enemy saves, an ability that is shared by almost nothing else in the game. A high roll on Unsettling Words can increase the chances of a condition sticking by 30% or more, which only gets stronger as the character levels up higher.
This synergizes perfectly with the Bardic spell list, which is packed with powerful single and multi-target debuffs that can be used in the same turn as the bonus action of Unsettling Words., but is also happily used by allies, as well.
As the Eloquence Bard levels up, the party will learn to love the near-constant stream of Inspiration it delivers. No other Bardic subclass comes close to being as good with Inspiration Dice as this one. By level 14, the College of Eloquence can potentially use 100% more Inspiration than any other kind of Bard, without factoring in a single short rest.
That’s a lot of power, both in and out of combat. Backing that up is the Eloquence Bard’s boost to social skills, which perfectly complements what the class was probably already planning to do on days when the enemies are talking instead of trying to stab you.
The College of Eloquence is strongest in a supportive role. Its spell list and abilities all focus around boosting allies or picking a single enemy and making them have a bad time. That’s great and can foster real community around the table. This, thinking back to the theme of the class, should be what an Eloquence Bard is all about.
The College of Eloquence has two glaring issues, both of which the subclass does nothing to fix. One, it deals very little actual damage, and two, whilst it’s a powerful spellcaster, it’s incredibly squishy, with a d8 hit die and only light armor.
This is honestly what I’d expect, considering the subclass’s flavor and abilities all revolve around it being a talker. But it is something to bear in mind when you’re building your character.
Extra defenses, while not essential, are going to be incredibly useful. Picking up Armor proficiencies, a regular source of temporary HP, or defensive spells like Shield or Mirror Image will go a long way to making sure the character stays on their feet to keep shouting insults at their foes.
Damage is a trickier problem to solve. The Bardic spell list is limited in its damage options, and finding ways of dealing consistent damage normally requires feats or multiclassing.
How to deal with this? Simple. You don’t. The College of Eloquence is purely supportive and works best when it disables and debuffs its enemies, while the party does all the damage.
Remember, you’re there as a cheerleader, so make sure that your allies, who are far more capable (and probably willing) to take repeated sword swings to the face, stay between you and the nasty things that want you dead.
Best Race Options
Changeling: Perfect stats are a great start. Proficiency in two skills and two languages is another Background, which is nice for a skill-focused character like Bard.
But we want the Changeling’s ability to freely change appearance, adjusting height, weight, gender, and everything else. No stats change, but for a character that has consistently high Deception rolls, shifting into someone else is an ability that begs to be used.
Fairy: Variable stats and some free spellcasting, with very good spells (Faerie Fire is great as a once per day freebie.) The big deal, though, is unconditional flight, as long as you’re wearing light or no armor. Play a Fairy and soar above your allies, casting spells and Inspiring allies with absolute impunity.
(Any) Tiefling: Great stats, Darkvision and Fire Resistance kick us off. Any of the bloodlines are good, only varying in stat bonus and daily spells, so feel free to choose between them.
Dispater is great for social subterfuge, and so is Glasya. Mephistopheles on the other hand, lets you get your hands dirty if that’s your jam.
Choosing the Right Skills
Because of the abilities of the subclass, Persuasion and Deception are a given. Take them both. Potentially spend Expertise on one or both, as well. It’s also worth picking up Perception, as it’s a skill you’re going to use again and again.
From there, the world is your oyster. Bards are one of the two best skill classes in the entire game, and the Bard has no limits on what skills it can take when creating the character.
If possible, look at what your party is made up of, talk to your GM, and fill in the gaps. Are you playing an RP heavy game of social intrigue and mystery? Grab Insight and as many knowledge skills as you can jam into the build.
Outdoor adventures or dungeon crawling? Consider Survival, Nature, and Arcana.
But the big takeaway is that the College of Eloquence can be, and probably will be, good at almost every skill. This is your specialty. Embrace it.
Inspiring Leader: Remember how we mentioned finding a regular source of temporary HP as a good defensive option? This feat does that, for you and your entire party.
The ability is basically free (it only takes 10 minutes out of your day to use.) Scales with level and with Charisma, and protects up to 6 creatures. The ability also freely refreshes after short rests. Inspiration is your thing, and it’s right there in the name!
Metamagic Adept: Adding metamagic to some of the Bard’s buffs or debuffs can make them much more powerful. With that in mind, we’d consider Extend Spell, which doubles the duration of spell effects, great for long-term defensive abilities, or Twin spell, which can double the targets of a single-target spell, both positive and negative.
Magic Initiate: Damage is something this subclass can struggle with, so using Magic Initiate to pick up Eldritch Blast and Hex from the Warlock goes a long way to solving that.
Many of the class’s abilities only take bonus actions and reactions too, which means you’re happy to just keep on blastin’ even as you’re Inspiring your allies.
Courtier: You like to talk? Here are two talking skills and twin languages so you can talk the words even gooder.
Spy: This variant of criminal gives two skills the Eloquence Bard wants, a gaming set, which is mostly useless, and Thief’s Tools, which aren’t. If your party doesn’t have a Rogue, you want this. Even if they do, you probably still want this.
Guild Merchant: Pick a trade. Now you’re a master in it, as well as a salesman. Two social skills, a language, and a set of Artisan’s Tools are a good package to support the class’s skillset.
Peace Cleric: One level in this class. That’s all that’s needed to turn the Eloquence Bard from a strong, fun, flexible subclass into an UNKILLABLE BROKEN TANK!!
All hyperbole aside, one level in Peace Cleric offers way too much power for the cost. Proficiency in medium armor and shields increases AC by 3-4 points, access to the Cleric spell list offers some good buffs, and a free skill is always nice.
However, what we really want is Emboldening Bond. This ability boosts the attack rolls, ability checks, and saving throws of multiple members of the party, can’t be removed, lasts 10 minutes, and can be used multiple times per day. Even better, it scales with your proficiency bonus, so never stops getting stronger as you level up.
Even more hilariously, Emboldening Bond stacks with Bardic Inspiration. And Bless. Which one level in Cleric gets you, too. The party is going to love you when, in every single encounter, they’re given multiple stacking buffs on every single thing they do. This is incredibly powerful. Find the Wisdom requirement from somewhere and take it.
Hexblade Warlock: Another 1 to 2 level dip, Hexblade is for characters who don’t want to support the party, so much as shout Inspiration as they blast holes in their enemies.
Benefits include armor proficiencies, weapon proficiencies that work on CHA bonus, the best damage cantrip in the game, and access to the Warlock spell list, which has some great spells the Bard doesn’t have access to (Armor of Agathys is a solid defense.)
One level gets you all you need, but you could drop two for Invocations, which boosts Eldritch Blast damage, and also lets the character pick up some fun utility picks.
Arcane Trickster Rogue: One level of Rogue spins the Eloquence Bard into the ultimate skill monkey. More skills, Expertise in two more of them, and sneak attack, just in case your character ever gets the urge to try and stab people. (Please don’t do this.)
One level for skill power is a fine dip. Three levels to push for Arcane Trickster is also decent, if you’re taking the role of party Rogue. Wizard spells, Cunning Action, and the major ability to use Mage Hand at long range to pick things up, steal, and disarm traps, all of which are nice.
Would I recommend playing a College of Eloquence Bard?
The College of Eloquence is a rare class that can slot neatly into literally any party and any campaign with absolutely zero issues.
While the class is more than capable of supporting itself, it’s happiest supporting a party instead. Damage dealers will love the constant stream of Inspiration the class hands out, letting them hit key attacks and pass saves that should have otherwise taken them out of the fight. Spellcasters on the other hand are going to enjoy every single one of their save-or-suck spells going off, even when they shouldn’t.
And of course, the character is still a Bard. That means it’s automatically the best social character in the game, with built-in access to several million skills and Expertise on whichever ones it wants. Work with your party, and no matter what happens, an Eloquence Bard can arrogantly stride into basically any situation and still talk their way to the top.